Now that fall is here, pumpkins are appearing in every porch and doorway, and farms up and down Silicon Valley (not to mention a good many parking lots) are bursting with bright orange pumpkins for sale. If you like pumpkins, there’s no better place in October to go than the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival, where you can get your fill of pumpkin displays (including some beautiful carved pumpkins and some not-so-beautiful giant pumpkins), pumpkin arts and crafts, and pumpkin delicacies.
The Pumpkin Festival is one of the Bay Area’s most popular festivals; hundreds of thousands of people will attend the festival, and the backups on Highways 1 and 92 are legendary. So is all the hype justified? Is it worth braving the hordes of people and the traffic and the heat? I’m just as allergic to crowds as the next person, and I say yes. It’s one of the few arts and crafts festivals I actually take the trouble to mark on my calendar and make sure we’re free to attend.
Here are three things I think make the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival a cut above your average arts and crafts fairs and festivals:
1) A lot of arts and crafts fairs aren’t much fun for kids, but the Pumpkin Festival really does have a ton of things to see and do that go well beyond the usual musical entertainment and kids’ craft table. You can gawk at the ginormous (and, to my mind, somewhat grotesque) Giant Pumpkins. You can watch Farmer Mike carve a pumpkin and turn it into a work of art; if he happens to be on a break, you can still admire the intricate creations he has on display. You can send your kids into a bouncy house or up a climbing wall. There’s even an awesome haunted house!
2) I’m a sucker for any kind of themed event, and I love how people show up so enthusiastically celebrating everyone’s favorite fall vegetable. Every other baby you see will be dressed in a pumpkin outfit, and every other little girl will be skipping around in an orange tutu or some other fall-or-halloween-themed getup. Even the grownups love to play dress-up: I’ve never seen so many pumpkin berets, jack-o-lantern sweaters and orange purses all in one place! If orange isn’t your color, you can still get into the spirit by purchasing a glass pumpkin, pumpkin lawn ornament, or some other pumpkin-themed home decor. Last but not least, you can gorge yourself not just on pumpkin pie, but on pumpkin soup, pumpkin curry, pumpkin fudge, pumpkin bread, pumpkin ale, and pumpkin ice cream.
3) I love wandering through artist’s booths and admiring their creations, but I’m guessing I’m not alone when I say I can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars on hand-blown glass ornaments, life-sized iron garden sculptures, teak patio furniture, oil paintings, 40″-wide photographs of polar bears, handcrafted jewelry, or cashmere scarves on a whim. The Pumpkin Festival actually has booths that sell things I can afford to buy without consulting our budget to see if it can handle the strain. You can get tshirts, hats, doll outfits, One of my favorite booths sells personalized holiday tree ornaments, starting at around $10.
I used to avoid the Pumpkin Festival too, but I discovered that the crowds and traffic aren’t so terrifying if you can manage to arrive before 10:30 a.m., and leave by 1:30 p.m. Also, parking isn’t a problem, because the Half Moon Bay High School opens up its fields and parking lots to the public (for a fee, but it goes to raise funds for the school), and it’s only a short walk away. This year’s Pumpkin Festival takes place on October 13 and 14, and I’m counting down the days. Pumpkin curry and pumpkin strudel, here I come!